Bannockburn and After

The Scots, sensing victory, pressed their attack but the battle hardened English gave blow for blow until they sighted more troops appear on the ridge behind Bruce. Fearing that these were reinforcements, the English suddenly lost their nerve. These reinforcements were in fact the sutlers and grooms from Bruce’s baggage train who had come closer to observe the battle. Edwards’s personal guard fought their way through the melee to guide the king to safety at Stirling castle.

As in all battles of the time, once an army broke it was at the mercy of the enemy and the Scots pursued their foes mercilessly until darkness and weariness ended the slaughter. It was said that so great was the spilling of blood that pools of it stood all around, bodies lay half submerged in the mud around the burn and bridges formed of dead bodies stretched across the stream. The total English casualties are unclear, but reckoned to be about 700 cavalry and between 4,000 and 11,000 infantry, while records show that 22 barons and 68 knights surrendered to the Scots. It is thought that about 4,000 Scottish spearmen were killed, but only two Scottish knights were recorded as casualties.

King Edward and his party reached Stirling castle, but Mowbray, with the chivalry of the time, refused him entry stating that as the Scots had kept to their word regarding the siege, Edward’s defeat meant that the castle had not been relieved and Mowbray must therefore keep his word also. The king, dispirited, moved on to Dunbar and eventually took ship for England. The remainder of his army also headed for Stirling and again Mowbray refused admission to all but a few favoured knights, the remainder camped outside the walls and were again attacked by the victorious Scots with many English being slaughtered.

Bruce was now undisputed leader in Scotland and had won the crown by right of conquest. He wasted no time in starting a pitiless devastation of the north of England, wreaking his vengeance for all the sufferings of his people at the hands of the English.

Edward’s defeat made him more dependant on his barons than ever, but the barons jockeying for power and influence, were divided. Edward’s uncle, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, a great power in the land but with little ability, led  a faction nominally loyal to the king but was suspected of making a secret understanding with Bruce.

Described in his own time as “immoral, quarrelsome and vindictive” and with a repulsive nature” Hereford was a great landowner, much favoured by Edward I and had become jealous at his perceived reduced influence under the new king. A counterforce arose under the leadership of Aymer Valence, the Earl of Pembroke, who, in his determination to frustrate Lancaster, backed the royal camp. With these two camps in open disagreement, Edward was to regain some little portion of his authority,

 Lancaster became increasingly distanced from the king, ruling his lands like an independent state and in the words of McKisack, “the supreme example of an over mighty subject”. The weakness of Edward can be seen by the treaty contracted between him and Lancaster at Leake in 1318, resulting among other things in the banishment of a number of Lancaster’s enemies and paving the way for the rise of the Despenser family.

In 1322 Lancaster raised a rebellion, but did not receive huge support as he lacked the charisma or personality to achieve his aims and had raised only some 3,000 troops when he met with the king’s forces at Burton on Trent. Greatly outnumbered, he retreated northwards. Meanwhile, the king’s Warden of Carlisle Sir Andrew de Harcla had summoned “under heavy penalty, knights, esquires and other men of the border region” and with a force of some 4,000 men, marched south to block Lancaster’s retreat at Boroughbridge. When Lancaster reached Boroughbridge on March 16th 1322, he found the royal force deployed by the River Ure, with some knights and pikemen stationed on a bridge and more pikemen arrayed in schiltron guarding the ford from attack by cavalry.

Lancaster ordered an attack on the bridge to be led by his son in law, Roger de Clifford and the Earl of Hereford, a man much admired for his physical strength and the two carved their way on to the bridge as a rain of arrows were showered on them. Things were going well until “a worthless creature” in the manner adopted many years before at Harold’s battle at Stamford Bridge, “lurking under the bridge, and fiercely with spear smote the brave knight in the fundament so that his bowels came out there”. Sir Roger de Clifford was then badly wounded by the arrow storm and the remaining knights could make no headway.

The remainder of Lancaster’s forces were faring no better at the ford, unable to cross in force due to the royal archers. Lancaster sent a message to de Harcla requesting an armistice till morning, when he would either give battle or surrender. De Harcla was in no mood for soft words, and bellowed across the water “Yield Traitor, Yield”. Lancaster knew that the charge of treason hung over him and now knew that he could expect no quarter, he replied “Nay, traitors we are none, and we will never yield while our lives last”. Darkness was now falling and the overnight truce was accepted.

With hundreds already dead, Lancaster’s men knew that they stood little chance of victory, many crept away under cover of darkness and by dawn Lancaster could see that he did not have sufficient forces to continue. Many discarded their armour and fine clothes, donning rags to look like peasants and tried to escape, but it was said that “not one single well known man among them escaped”. Lancaster was found in a nearby chapel, on his knees praying, he was grabbed, stripped of his armour and dressed in the clothes of his squire and taken to prison at York.

Throughout this period the Scots had not been idle, becoming ever bolder and moving further south with their raiding. So destructive were these raids that in 1318, Pope John XX11 excommunicated Bruce and placed an Interdict on Scotland. In 1320 the Scottish barons and prelates drafted the Declaration of Arbroath to Pope John whose recognition they needed to declare an independent Scotland. The Declaration stated that “For so long as one hundred men remain alive we will never, in any way, be bound beneath the yoke of English domination, for it is not for glory, riches or honours that we fight, but for freedom alone”.

The Declaration fell on deaf ears however and it was not until the Treaty of Northampton in 1328 that the Pope lifted the Interdict. Some captured spies revealed to Edward a plan for the Scots to attack York and abduct Queen Isabella. By the time the king learned of this plot, the Scots were already at Myton, only 13 miles from York forcing the local Mayor and Bishops to raise what forces they could to from hastily co-opted “laymen, clerks and men of religion” oppose the Scots.